We are really excited about the "Reading the World: Tablet to Tablet" exhibit at the Mandeville Branch this November. We hope that you have the chance to stop by and explore. Today we are focusing on the earliest examples of written communication, which were found in ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iran) and date to around 3200 BCE.
A scribe would use a reed stylus to press characters into a clay tablet. Known as cuneiform, opens a new window, the characters were originally largely pictographic, but by about 2500 BCE these signs had evolved to become the first written language: Sumerian, opens a new window. The Sumerians used cuneiform for basic accounting and record keeping. Over approximately 3000 years cuneiform served as the alphabet for several Near East civilizations, including the Babylonian Empire, opens a new window.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, opens a new window, considered the first epic ever written, was recorded in cuneiform on 12 clay tablets. Written c. 2000 BCE, it tells the story of the ruler Gilgamesh and his quest for immortality. The tablets were lost when the Library of Ashurbanipal, opens a new window was destroyed in 612 BCE and were not discovered until the mid-19th century. Fragments of the clay tablets are currently housed at the British Museum, opens a new window.
Want to learn more about The Epic of Gilgamesh and the origin or writing across several ancient civilizations, check out these titles: